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Monday 22 July 2019

Dublin Port in a storm: anatomy of a busy year

Boston, Chicago and San Francisco and Venice (twice)... Just a few of the 2018 ports of call for well-travelled staff, writes Fearghal O'Connor

Looking east along the River Liffey from the East Link Toll Bridge (R131) towards the commercial port of Dublin. Picture: Getty
Looking east along the River Liffey from the East Link Toll Bridge (R131) towards the commercial port of Dublin. Picture: Getty
Expenses: Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O’Reilly. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Fearghal O'Connor

January 2018: The New Year kicked off where the old one ended for Dublin Port's communications manager Charlie Murphy: with a trip to the Cill Airne, the popular boat bar and restaurant on the River Liffey.

In the weeks around Christmas and New Year, he had spent close to €2,000 on business entertainment in the Long Hall, Ely CHQ, the Stag's Head, Pichet and Matt the Thresher, according to expense statements signed off by his CEO Eamonn O'Reilly and seen by the Sunday Independent.

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In the 10 months from Christmas to Halloween 2018, he would spend more than €24,000 on business entertainment, staff entertainment and community dinners on the Cill Airne alone, including substantial amounts at weekends.

Asked about this, Dublin Port has said that "all credit card expenditure is in line with the company's policy - only for business purposes, properly recorded, receipted and authorised, and subject to review by Internal Audit".

With Brexit high on the agenda, Mr O'Reilly unsurprisingly started the year with meetings in London - staying at the five-star Pelham Hotel in South Kensington with Murphy - and in Brussels.

But the coming months would see the CEO - and his management team - travel much further afield while spending just under €95,000 on his company credit card.


Dublin Port takes its relationship with the local community very seriously, sponsoring teams and hosting events. In early February, Mr Murphy paid over €8,000 for a juvenile football team trip, for example.

Murphy and three other Port managers also travelled to London to look at city farms, a concept they hope to develop on Dublin Port land. While there, they paid €1,200 to stay in the four-star Melia White House near Regents Park. The trip included a meal at Gaucho Charlotte in Fitzrovia which claims to serve "the finest Argentinian steaks". In total, the trip cost at least €3,250.

"Some receipts mislaid, awaiting replacements," Mr Murphy's expense statement noted. The following night, the CEO hosted a retirement dinner for a senior member of staff at French restaurant Marcel's on Merrion Row, costing €1,675. He also paid sculptor Ronan Halpin €1,000 for a corporate gift, his expense statement showed.


St Patrick's Day was the annual Harbour to Harbour Walk from Dun Laoghaire to Howth in aid of Aware. Murphy spent €742 on the Cill Airne on business entertainment in conjunction with the event. The following week, on a Saturday, he spent a further €1,239.90 on the boat on staff entertainment.


Back to the Cill Airne for some business entertainment - costing €300 - on a Saturday. Other business entertainment took place in the Sugar Club, the Westin and at Roberta's, a bar and restaurant in Temple Bar, where Mr Murphy spent €358.

Mr O'Reilly led a group of Dublin Port managers to a European Seaports Organisation (ESPO) meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, staying at the five-star Arena di Serdica hotel.

The highlight of the month was the christening of the cargo ship, MV Celine. That included the commissioning and performance of a new piece of music (€205,000) to entertain guests including guest-of-honour Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. The Taoiseach had also attended the Port's previous big social event, the opening of its Maritime Garden and newly refurbished HQ grounds, a €7m project.


In May, the Port hosted an exhibition of 30 images of Dublin Port at CHQ at a cost of just over €3,000.

The day after the exhibition, Mr O'Reilly travelled to Vancouver, with two payments at the Fairmont Pacific Hotel totalling €2,078. He spent small amounts on business entertainment - about €15 to €30 at a time - at Forage & Timber Gastropub, Moonpennies Cafe, De Dutch and Stepho's Place. His flight, bought in January, cost €2,020.

Later in May, Mr O'Reilly and other senior managers, including Mr Murphy, flew to Venice. Flights cost €2,673 and their stay in the Hotel Arcadia cost €4,098. The visit to the city coincided with the 16th Venice architecture biennale, curated by two Irish architects.

The exhibition made a strong impression on Mr O'Reilly. Five months later, he wrote a strongly worded letter to the Irish Independent in response to suggestions by the president of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, that Dublin Port should be moved: "In a year when Irish architecture was so wonderfully represented [at] the Venice Architecture Biennale, I also consider your remarks as damaging to the credibility of your profession," wrote Mr O'Reilly.


June began with the printing of Dublin Port's review of its €1bn masterplan but it was also a hectic month of travel and business entertainment.

Over the June Bank Holiday weekend, Charlie Murphy paid for business entertainment on a number of occasions: on Friday, he was at Urban Brewing (€70), he had two payments at HQ Restaurant on both Saturday and Sunday, costing €320, and he was back on the Cill Airne on the Tuesday, spending €1,971.

The next day senior managers headed for a week-long trip to Quebec City for the AIVP (Worldwide Network of Port Cities) World Conference. Mr O'Reilly had bought tickets for himself and three managers on Air Canada totalling €10,686. Conference tickets cost a further €3,700 and rooms at the Fairmont Pacific Hotel in the city cost over €5,200.

At the end of the month, Mr Murphy held a reception for guests from the UN Conference on Trade and Development on the Cill Airne, costing €2,402.

Two nights later, his guests were local and he paid €474.81 for a community dinner at Ely restaurant in Dublin's CHQ.


The first weekend in July saw a trip to Wineport Lodge for the Port's board for an off-site meeting as well as two nights of staff entertainment on the Cill Airne, costing €2,000.

At the end of the month, Mr Murphy travelled to Boston, with a €1,359 stay at the Park Plaza, paid for by Mr O'Reilly. on his company credit card While there, he visited Top of the Hub, Boylston Aubonpain and Brodies Seaport but his expense statement said that he had "lost all Boston receipts".

Meanwhile, Mr O'Reilly was in Finland at an ESPO meeting, spending very little except for a €328 hotel room.


Apart from two business entertainment excursions to the Cill Airne for Mr Murphy, August was a quiet month.


Mr Murphy headed to Venice to stay in the Hotel Arcadia (€957) for a three-day trip in early September, entertaining business clients at five different restaurants for below €100 each time, including a €92 meal at Ristorante Saraceno, which one TripAdvisor reviewer described as "the worst restaurant in Venice".

Later in the month, Mr O'Reilly paid €5,500 to fly Lord Mayor Nial Ring to the US for a special cruise on the Chicago River. Also at the event, which raised funds for a north Dublin GAA club, were former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel. Two rooms at the luxury Kimpton Hotel Palomar for Mr Murphy and Mr Ring cost €1,629.

Mr O'Reilly did not travel to Chicago. Instead he joined a party of fellow European port executives to travel to San Francisco and Los Angeles with an EU Commissioner, paying over €7,700 for flights and €1,400 for hotels.

Meanwhile, Pat Ward, Dublin Port human resources manager, and head of its cruise business, was in Lisbon for the Seatrade Cruise awards. He and another employee paid €2,245 to stay in the five-star Myriad Hotel, with flights costing €490 and ceremony tickets costing almost €3,000.

There was good news at the ceremony. Dublin was crowned 'Port of the Year', beating off Martinique and Quebec. Within months, Mr O'Reilly would shock the cruise industry by announcing Dublin's retreat from the cruise sector to make way for more cargo volumes, despite the huge success it has had building up the business.


As the evenings lengthened, things quietened down at Dublin Port, certainly in terms of travel and client entertainment. Murphy had spent more than €24,000 on the Cill Airne since Christmas. But during October he spent just €134 there on two occasions, favouring instead Etto on Merrion Row for a €228 business lunch and, a couple of weeks later, the Marker Hotel for business entertainment costing €238.


The CEO's busy travel schedule had also quietened. But as chairman of the European Seaports Organisation, Mr O'Reilly was on hand at the Palais des Academies in Brussels to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the organisation.

Back home, Dublin Port executives - as well as Lord Mayor Nial Ring - were at Poolbeg Yacht Club to celebrate more than 25 years of a local youth sailing project. Mr Murphy paid €1,500 towards the day.


The festive season may have arrived but credit card spending by the chief executive and his communications manager had ground to a complete halt, apart from a few taxis. In the previous year, Mr O'Reilly and Mr Murphy had spent more than €170,000 between them on their company credit cards. But in December, jointly, they spent less than €1,000, much of it accounted for by an ongoing sports sponsorship.

Asked whether the Port's audit process had raised any concerns about the levels of spending by managers on company credit cards or if any changes had been made to policies governing more general credit card spending, the company responded: "Dublin Port Company's internal auditor reviews expenditure including on credit cards and reports directly to the Audit & Risk Committee of the board. No concerns have been raised about any expenditure."

Sunday Independent

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